Rushing To Judgment

Kharey Wise was wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a female jogger in Central Park in 1989 and spent 15 years in prison. He was released when the real assailant confessed to the crime (Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images).

Kharey Wise was wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a female jogger in Central Park in 1989 and spent 15 years in prison. He was released when the real assailant confessed to the crime (Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images).

For many who remember the terrible crime, the huge outcry and the media circus around the 1989 “Central Park Jogger” case, which was BIG national news, it may have come as a surprise to learn that all 5 of the teenagers convicted were in fact innocent.

But it probably shouldn’t have.

The film The Central Park Five, recently premiered on PBS, offers an important cautionary tale about how a rush to judgment, fueled by all-in media coverage of a particularly heinous crime, increases the chances that criminal justice officials will make critical mistakes, or engage in deliberate misconduct. The Reggie Clemons case, tainted by allegations of police abuse during the investigation and prosecutorial misconduct during the trial, is a reminder that a process compromised in this way can result in a death sentence.

At the other end of the spectrum, a rush to judgment can occur when there is a callous indifference on the part of authorities toward a crime they may perceive as less important because it was committed in a marginalized community. That’s what seems to have happened in the Carlos De Luna case, where an almost certainly innocent man was put to death for a crime another man named Carlos probably committed.


Who Deserved To Die This Week?

witness viewing room death penalty

Execution viewing room for witnesses © Scott Langley

On Tuesday, Jared Loughner, who murdered 6 people and wounded a Member of Congress and a dozen others in an Arizona shooting spree, accepted a plea bargain that will result in multiple sentences of life without parole.

That same evening, Texas put to death Marvin Wilson, a man with a 61 IQ and the mind of a 7 year old.

On Wednesday, Arizona executed Daniel Cook, a man who endured horrific physical and sexual childhood abuse practically from the day he was born. The man who prosecuted Cook argued for clemency, but no one listened.


Abused In Childhood Then Sentenced To Die: 5 Stories


Late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

The late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun regretted the Court's 1976 Gregg vs. Georgia decision allowing executions to resume, saying in his dissent: "The path the Court has chosen lessens us all."

Daniel Cook, abused since infancy and now facing execution on August 8 in Arizona, is just the most current example of someone who endured severe childhood abuse only to later face execution. (Cook has a clemency hearing on Aug. 3; the prosecutor opposes his execution and it can still be stopped.)

There have been plenty of others.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In its 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, the US Supreme Court allowed executions to resume but required that juries be guided to restrict death sentences to the worst crimes committed by the worst offenders (aka “the worst of the worst”). The Court also endorsed laws “permitting the jury to dispense mercy on the basis of factors too intangible to write into a statute.” Defendants with mitigating circumstances (like youth, diminished mental capacity, or a history of childhood abuse) were supposed to receive lesser sentences.

So why do people with severe child abuse in their backgrounds keep ending up on death row?  Are they really among the worst? SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

From Heartbreaking Child Abuse To Pointless Execution

daniel cook

Even his prosecutor now opposes his execution, Arizona is planning to execute Daniel Cook on August 8.

Working to abolish the death penalty can sometimes be an emotionally challenging enterprise. We are immersed in a world where people suffer unimaginable losses, and we’re constantly reading about heinous crimes inflicted with brutal violence. Some of those crimes, of course, are murders. But often we are reading about another type of crime: violent child abuse, which is a defining experience for many who end up on death row.

Daniel Cook in Arizona is a case in point. Abused from infancy, he took the all too familiar path from horrific family violence to mental illness to drug abuse to violent crime to death row:

Arizona’s Immigration Law: 3 Sections Down, 1 to Go

Immigrant rights activists participate in the annual May Day rally. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck/Getty Images

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered its ruling on four sections of SB 1070, more than two years after Arizona’s discriminatory immigration bill was signed into law.

In a 5-3 decision, the Court struck down provisions criminalizing the acts of failing to carry immigration papers, seeking or performing work as an undocumented migrant, and provisions allowing police to arrest without warrant anyone suspected of committing a crime that could lead to deportation.

The fact that these provisions will not be able to take effect is a victory for immigrants’ rights activists and those fighting the draconian immigration laws that have been popping up in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, the good news is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that for Latinos and visible migrant communities in Arizona, the chances of being racially profiled have been both increased and de facto legitimized by this decision. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Immigration Detention: The Golden Goose for Private Prisons

An immigrant stands in a holding cell at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

For many months now, states all over the U.S. and the federal government have taken steps to “get tough” on undocumented immigrants of color without taking into account the fact that workers are crossing the border because U.S. employers are desperate for their labor and no visas exist to permit their entry.

Instead of spending their time tackling this reality, which if actually addressed might create a basis for the nondiscriminatory enforcement of immigration laws, legislators are instead continuing to introduce bills, such as Rep. Lamar Smith’s H.R. 1932.

These bills throw more money at detention centers and enforcement operations and ups the ante by making their imprisonment mandatory and indefinite, regardless of Supreme Court precedent finding that it’s unconstitutional.


Anti-Immigrant Bill Coming Down To The Wire

By Lisa Adler, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA

This week – we need thousands of people to pressure Governor Nathan Deal to stop the anti-immigrant bill, HB 87.

The Georgia State Legislature will reconvene on Monday, April 11 for its final 3 days.  During this time, HB 87 – the anti-immigrant Arizona copycat – will be voted on.  It is urgent that we pressure Governor Nathan Deal NOW to kill this bill, even before it reaches his desk.

States around the country—including Georgia’s fellow Southern state Mississippi – are voting down copycat bills.  Even Arizona voted down several anti-immigrant bills.  Why?  Because such bills are morally and economically bankrupt, and violate fundamental principles of human rights and dignity.

At the March 24th more than 5,000 people—students, elders, mothers, fathers, immigrants and citizens—rallied at the state capitol to oppose anti-immigrant legislation. Civil rights icon Representative John Lewis passionately reminded the crowd that state lawmakers must not turn back the clock on progress.  Let’s spread this message to Governor Deal and beyond – No to HB 87, No to Hate, Yes to Immigrant Rights!

Arizona Execution Stayed – For Now

The prosecutor who successfully sought a death sentence for Daniel Cook in Arizona way back in 1988 now says he “would not have sought the death penalty in this case” if he had known about Cook’s history of severe child abuse and serious mental disorders. 

Those factors were not known to the prosecutor, or anyone else, until 2010 (22 years after the trial), primarily because Cook’s appointed lawyer, according to the prosecutor, was “at the low end of the competency scale for the handling of the defense of a standard felony” and “appeared neither capable nor willing to put forth the effort necessary to represent a defendant charged with a capital offense.”  The lawyer in question was bi-polar and drinking heavily at the time of the trial.

Cook was to have been executed yesterday (April 5) but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay to give themselves more time to decide whether or not to take up Cook’s claim of ineffective counsel.  If the high Court does not take the case, the stay would be lifted and new death date could be set.

Last October, Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona amid a lot of hoopla about the origins and efficacy of Arizona’s batch execution drugs (which it was later learned came from a supplier operating out of a driving school in the U.K.)  But in that case, as here, the controversy over the drugs used to kill overshadowed the fact that someone closely involved in issuing the death sentence (in Landrigan’s case the trial judge) vehemently opposed the execution.  The trial judge in that case told Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency that Landrigan’s death sentence “is not appropriate and never has been.”

Then, as now, incompetent defense lawyering kept important information about Landrigan’s severe mental impairment from being presented to the court.  The U.S. Supreme Court in that case ruled that this new information would not have made a difference, but the judge’s statements proved conclusively that they were wrong

Hopefully this time the U.S. Supreme Court will make the right decision.

Migrants’ Rights: A Visual and Verbal Journey

By Amalia Greenberg Delgado, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator

“You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey… he [the soldier] pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes. He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs. He said that if I did what he said he would let me go.”
Margarita (not her real name), a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant, describing how she was sexually abused by a soldier, Amnesty International interview, June 2009.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel without legal permission through Mexico to reach the United States. They flee poverty, war, environmental disasters and are enticed by a promise of freedom and a chance to join their families in the North. Some disappear on the journey without trace, kidnapped and killed, robbed and assaulted or sometimes falling or thrown off speeding trains. Some suffer arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials along the way. The litany of abuses and repeated attempts to reach the United States are testaments to the determination migrants have to build a better life.

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) this past Saturday, March 19, 2011, Amnesty International USA heard from leaders in the movement about increased human rights abuses of migrants on both sides of the United States’ southern border. Father Solalinde, a human rights defender and director of a migrants’ shelter in Oaxaca, spoke of the “globalization of love” and the absolute right to dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. His soft spoken words did not lessen the blows of his words as he reminded us of the struggles that migrants face.


We Will Not Be Silent: Governor Deal, Veto HB 87!

By Lisa Adler, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA

Yesterday, March 3rd, the Georgia House voted 116-56 to pass HB 87, the anti-immigrant Arizona copycat law. The vote was down party lines, with only one Republican casting a “no” vote.  The debate on the bill lasted 3 hours, with Democratic Caucus members passionately testifying against the bill.  One Representative compared the bill with “slavery times”, when African Americans were forced to carry papers with them declaring who they “belonged to.”

Outside, over 200 people rallied for two hours.  The rally was organized by the Georgia Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, with Amnesty-SRO playing a lead organizing role.  Southern Regional Office director, Everette Harvey-Thomas spoke as did numerous allies.  Protestors held signs that declared HB 87 would return Georgia to a “show me your papers” state, and would be detrimental to the state’s economy by driving immigrant workers out.  As the speakers concluded, we entered the capitol with a large letter that the demonstrators signed during the rally.  The message was clear:  “Governor Deal, Commit to Veto.”

The struggle to stop HB 87 is not over!  First, the Senate has to consider the bill but then, most important, Governor Nathan Deal will decide whether to sign it or veto.  As the signs clearly read yesterday, we are calling on Governor Deal to commit NOW to veto the bill should it reach his desk.  It is critical he feel the pressure now, from Georgians but also from people and institutions all over the country.  Please call him at 404-656-1776. Urge him to veto the bill should it arrive at his desk.  Tell him that Georgia cannot afford this bill—neither economically nor morally.